by Martin LaMonica
WASHINGTON–Where you see an electric car, your utility sees a battery on wheels.
Forward-looking utilities are gearing up to tap into the stored energy that plug-in electric vehicles can provide using smart-grid technology, said industry executives at consulting firm Kema’s Utility of the Future conference here this week.
Car batteries can provide a buffer to lighten the load on the grid during peak times and potentially provide back-up power to homeowners. Down the line, old plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) batteries could be recycled as storage devices, they said.
“I think PHEVs will be the killer application for the smart grid,” said David Mohler, the chief technology officer of Duke Energy. “They are able to both consume and provide energy like no other device can and can really change storage.”
A number of plug-in electric vehicles aimed at mainstream buyers will become available over the next two years. Although there’s no standard storage capacity, Mohler estimated that four of them could power a house, at least for a short time.
In the near term, the most promising marriage of the grid and car batteries is providing what the power industry calls “frequency regulation.” It’s an arrangement that could save utilities money, reduce pollution, and potentially save consumers money, advocates of the approach said.
Utilities routinely pay for frequency regulation services to ensure that the supply of electricity matches the demand. When an imbalance between supply and demand causes a change in signal frequency, power generators crank up to adjust the flow of electricity.